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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

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Editor's Note: Welcome to the third year of The Vegan Experience! All month we're exploring the vegan lifestyle, from dining out to eating in, developing a slew of delicious recipes for vegan appetizers, snacks, and entrees along the way. For more posts in the series, check here!

Last year during vegan month, my mom said to me, "So what do vegan people eat?" And I started listing all of the vegetables I could think of. She interrupted me with an, "Oh, so basically lots of side dishes?"

I don't blame her. It's easy to get it in your head that vegetables are only side dishes when you're born and raised with a meat-in-the-middle-of-the-plate diet, and even easier when whoever's doing the cooking is paying more attention to that meat than the vegetables.

What I can do, on the other hand, is try to stuff her with vegetables and salads that are so darn delicious that she'll stop thinking of them as sides and start thinking of them as what they are: meals unto themselves. This Roasted Chickpea and Kale Salad is a good place to start.

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Chickpeas on their own are wonderful in salads (and in almost any other application I can think of), and when you combine them with kale, they become a meal that's as hearty as it is tasty. It's a combo I use in one of my other favorite salads, this Marinated Kale and Chickpea Salad with Sumac Onions.

In that recipe, the chickpeas go in straight from the can (or the pot if you want to cook them from dry). Today, we're going to roast them first.

Roasting them not only concentrates their flavor, giving them an intense nuttiness (and offering you the opportunity to cook some flavors right into them, like the paprika and cumin I add), but it also alters their texture. Cook them long enough and they get completely crisp, which makes them a fun bar snack. For this salad, they're cooked not quite as long, producing chickpeas that are ever so slightly crisp on the edges, with a moist internal meatiness. A handful of pinenuts reinforces the nutty, meaty flavor.

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I've discovered in the past that the best way to incorporate kale into a salad is to massage it with olive oil beforehand. The oil penetrates the waxy cuticle on the leaves, softening them. You end up with greens that are tender but crisp, and more importantly, stay crisp for days even after being dressed.

Speaking of dressing, we're making a very basic vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon juice, sherry vinegar (red wine will work just fine), some garlic, and some thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes, which bring their characteristic sweetness to the mix.

On its own, the salad was still missing something. A dash of hot sauce added to the dressing perked it up, as did some sliced scallions.

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But the real key is herbs, and lots of them. A full cup of cilantro leaves and mint leaves roughly chopped before folding into the salad adds a layer of flavor—think of it as a pole—that vaults your salad out of the side dish and smack into the center of your bowl. Eat up.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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